By HAIMANTI DUTTA RAY
It is the season of flowering trees. The chirping of birds in the morning, running helter-skelter in search of a mate to build a nest, wakes us up. When the balmy warmth of the sun falls on trees, they break into foliage and flowers during springtime. Feathery birds are to be found, in their full plumage, in the most unlikely places. It is believed that no one has ever seen the ‘koel’. Its crescendo of chirping occurs almost any time of the day. It is elusive – a recluse – much like the dame who loves to sing, but fears to show her face lest someone may find out that she is a tainted beauty!
Bengal, before it was partitioned and subdivided, could well have been named ‘God’s Own Country’. It really doesn’t matter whether India is torn apart by religious and political strife. But, for that matter, the ‘Country’ here hardly means our country. Rather it stands for the lush green countryside – one where the eyes find balminess and the heart a much-deserved solace. Bengal’s countryside and its greenery allow the eyes to delve deep within. Rural Bengal still has that greenery, which when rain-washed gives the impression of fresh, dewy air. You inhale it and you become one with the soil of the land. West Bengal, which lies on the eastern fringes of our country, came much later. The Britishers had divided Bengal into east and west. East Bengal lay with the newly-formed Pakistan, but after the Liberation War of 1971, became an independent country – Bangladesh.
Much has been written and discussed about the Partition and the mass human exodus which followed. Whether it was at all necessary, whether it was another of our erstwhile colonial rulers’ strategies is, of course, a matter of debate. Families witnessed the death of lives as well as of dreams and ambitions. The Indian independence had come, but at a huge cost. Among those residing in the land, there were very few families which weren’t affected by the aftermath of the independence struggle and the concomitant Partition of the country. A handful of intellectuals, who had gone abroad in pursuit of higher education, had raised many a hue and cry against the bloodshed which had perpetrated these two momentous events in Indian history. Many families were rendered homeless, many driven crazy after being uprooted from the place of their birth, not out of own volition. Among our film directors who had portrayed Partition, especially of Bengal, was Ritwik Ghatak, simply because this mammoth historical demarcation by the Radcliffe Line had seared him to the core. In film after film, Ghatak had presented the consequences which had been perpetrated post the Partition of Bengal.
In almost every film of his, there has a mirror held up where one could what happened to the Bengali middle class families in that era. In his Meghe Dhaka Tara, Ghatak reveals how the principal bread earner of the family, the heroine herself, had to forego her own subtler feelings of love for the greater cause of the family. In those days of the late sixties and seventies, the triumvirate of Ritwik Ghatak, Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen, among whom only the latter is alive, ruled the ‘parallel’ stream of Bengali cinema. Rumour goes that when Satyajit Ray released his film ‘Abhijaan’ starring Soumitra Chatterjee, Ghatak had said, “Tell Manik (the name by which Ray was known in close circles) to go and watch my film ‘Ajantrik’”. This is not the time or the place to argue which one was a greater film. But the fact remains that Ghatak’s film was released much before Ray’s did and both their films had a dilapidated automobile at the centre of the plot structure.
I had read Khushwant Singh’s Train To Pakistan, many years ago. Compared to the novels of recent times, the book is very small. But the graphic images which its pages convey to the readers are memorable, searing and blood-curdling. Many historians even today are at loggerheads about the fact that these two states of Bengal and Punjab had borne the brunt of the Partition mostly. But the one for the state of Punjab is given more prominence in historical annals than the one of Bengal. Agreed that Punjab saw more gory incidents, stories about them have gone down through generations of many Sikh families. Yet the one for Bengal had hardly been less gory. The largest migration of human population, that world history records, happened only through and in the state of Bengal.
I sincerely wish that more and more film makers and writers of literary fiction of our times would explore and delve deeper into the subtler issues that eventually perpetrated the Partition of India. Of late, the fifty years of the Naxalbari Movement, a favourite topic with recent authors, had had ample coverage and recognition it deserved. But I think the Movement, which had aimed to usher in a watershed of sorts and which had been nipped, is being considered to be very elitist, intellectual and ultimately, a high brow one. The present young generation knows neither the events which lead up to the Movement nor history which lead to the Partition of the country. Let recent literary works which tend to delve more on mythology and popular culture, present a tale based on the Partition of India, necessarily in the English language.